Thursday, February 14, 2019

Chevre Kaddisha 2019 Meeting

And A Call for Chevre Kaddisha Volunteers: Abq Jew has often written about the important and holy work that the Chevre Kaddisha does in our Jewish community of Albuquerque.

It's the ultimate mitzvah, Rabbi Min Kantrowitz tells us - participating in a tahara, the ritual purification of the body of a Jewish person before that person is buried.

Albuquerque Chevre Kaddisha 
Continues to Serve the Jewish Community
Come and Learn on March 17 - and Consider Joining

Funerals are a time when families often feel the need to connect with their cultural roots. While many Jews know that traditional Jewish law does not permit embalming and cremation, fewer know about the ancient Tahara purification ritual that honors the deceased. 

This sacred ritual, carried out by a trained and dedicated group of volunteers—the Chevre Kaddisha (Holy Society)— is based on respect — for the body of the deceased, for the grieving family and friends, and for the whole community. Traditional Jewish burials recognize that death is a natural part of the life cycle, and that burial in the earth is the time-honored way to honor that cycle. The members of the Albuquerque Chevre Kaddisha are devoted to doing the holy work of preparing the bodies of Jews for proper burial.

Since the work of the Chevre Kaddisha involves actions to which most people have a reaction of aversion, fear, or disinterest, why are a group of Jews so dedicated to this mitzvah? Why do so many families, formally affiliated with congregations or not, desire this ritual for their loved ones at the time of death?

Why might you consider learning more about the work of the Chevre Kaddisha, attending an hour-long training session, and perhaps joining this Sacred Society?

When someone you love dies, it is appropriate and natural to continue to care about them, to desire that their body be treated with dignity, respect, honor and love. The ritual of tahara (purification) undertaken by the Chevre Kaddisha, does exactly that. Jewish tradition refers to the concept as ‘kavod ha’met’ honoring the deceased.

What do Chevre Kaddisha members do? 

After receiving information about the death of a Jewish person from the funeral home, clergy or relatives, a designated member of the Chevre Kaddisha contacts other trained members to see if they are available to serve. For the sake of modesty, male members of the Chevre Kaddisha work with men who have died; females with women. 

Teams of four to six people gather at the funeral home, say a few prayers, don protective garments and gather the required supplies. Members check the funeral garments, white multi-piece items of clothing made of cotton or linen, quite similar to those worn by the High Priest at the time the ancient Temple stood. 

We then gently cleanse the body of the deceased, modestly, uncovering only parts of the body at a time, avoiding any appearance of impropriety. Cleansing is done quietly, solemnly, respectfully and lovingly.

The team then performs the ritual purification, where a clean white sheet is held over the deceased, like a chuppah (wedding canopy) and a measured amount of water is gently poured over the person, while the members recite a Hebrew verse about purity. 

The team members use soft towels to dry off the body of the deceased before dressing it in the funeral garments and carefully transferring it into the coffin. Broken shards of pottery are placed on the eyes and mouth, indicating the finality of death. Earth from Israel is sprinkled over the deceased, connecting them to the land of their ancestors.

Traditionally, Chevre Kaddisha members apologize for any awkwardness or errors, express gratitude for participating in this mitzvah, and ask that the memory of the deceased be a blessing. 

After closing the coffin, the team does a few final prayers, and thanks each other. Members leave the room, each time permanently changed, moved by the experience, and grateful for the gift of life.

Tahara is available, without charge,
to any Jew in the community. 

There are very rare exceptions where a Tahara cannot be done, due to the condition of the body, the time period between death and burial, or the lack of available volunteers.

All the members of the Chevre Kaddisha started out with doubts, moved through them and are now very willing to talk to others in the community about their experiences. 

Families interested in preplanning a Tahara for themselves or arranging one for a recently deceased family member, irrespective of an affiliation with a temple or synagogue, can speak to their clergy or funeral home about arranging a Tahara.

 You can also take this a step further by learning more about the work of the Chevre Kaddisha and perhaps considering becoming a Chevre Kaddisha volunteer. 

Members welcome Jewish men and women, ages 18 years and older, to come to our annual meeting and training session on Sunday, March 17 at the Daniels Funeral Home located at 7601 Wyoming Blvd. NE. Daniels will provide drinks and the use of the preparation room. 

The current Chevre Kaddisha members will meet at 10:30 am to talk about issues that may have arisen during the year, share solutions and support each others work. 

Starting at noon you can learn about our local Chevre Kaddisha practices and meet volunteers – many who are your friends and neighbors – over a light lunch generously provided by the Jewish Federation of New Mexico . 

A training session from 1:00 -2:00 pm  will both refresh and update the skills of established Chevre Kaddisha members and give prospective volunteers a realistic view of the Tahara ceremony. 

If interested, please contact Abq Jew
(505) 750-2465

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The Key to Atonal Music

If Only There Were: In May 2015, Abq Jew had the pleasure of escorting Great Grand Mama (and Mother-in-Law) Sheila Kronrot, of blessed memory, to a local showing of the film Woman in Gold.

The film told the story of Maria Altmann, of blessed memory, who was forced (and able) to flee Vienna shortly after the Anschluss (March 1938) - the joining of Austria with Nazi Germany.

With the help of a young lawyer, E Randol Schoenberg, the then-elderly Maria sought to recover Gustav Klimt's portrait of her aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer, from the Austrian government.

So what happened? Maria Altmann won her case.
The painting Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907) was sold to cosmetics heir Ronald Lauder for $135 million, at the time the highest sum ever paid for a painting. 
Since July 13, 2006, the painting has been on public display in the Neue Galerie in New York City, which was established by Lauder in 2001. 

And what about Maria Altmann's lawyer, E Randol "Randy" Schoenberg?  Here are two things you may or may not know about him.

1. He is an avid genealogist.
  • He serves as a volunteer curator for, one of its most active users, managing over 150,000 profiles. 
  • He is a board member of and the Co-Founder of its Austria-Czech Special Interest Group. 
  • He administers the Schoenberg and Zeisl DNA Projects on
  • He is the author of the Beginner's Guide to Austrian-Jewish Genealogy and the co-author of Getting Started with Czech-Jewish Genealogy.
This is how Abq Jew "knows" Randy Schoenberg - he (and 12 of his Friends) follow Randy on Facebook and other genealogical fora.

2. He is the grandson of composer Arnold Schoenberg.
  • Arnold Schoenberg or Schönberg (13 September 1874 – 13 July 1951) was an Austrian-American composer, music theorist, teacher, writer, and painter. He was associated with the expressionist movement in German poetry and art, and leader of the Second Viennese School
  • With the rise of the Nazi Party, Schoenberg's works were labeled degenerate music, because they were modernist and atonal. He immigrated to the United States in 1934.
  • Schoenberg's approach, both in terms of harmony and development, has been one of the most influential of 20th-century musical thought. Many European and American composers from at least three generations have consciously extended his thinking, whereas others have passionately reacted against it.
  • Schoenberg was known early in his career for simultaneously extending the traditionally opposed German Romantic styles of Brahms and Wagner. Later, his name would come to personify innovations in atonality (although Schoenberg himself detested that term) that would become the most polemical feature of 20th-century art music. 
  • In the 1920s, Schoenberg developed the twelve-tone technique, an influential compositional method of manipulating an ordered series of all twelve notes in the chromatic scale. He also coined the term developing variation and was the first modern composer to embrace ways of developing motifs without resorting to the dominance of a centralized melodic idea.
This is not how Abq Jew "knows" Randy Schoenberg - he just isn't a big fan of music that he can't sing (or play) along with. You know - musical motifs with a centralized melodic idea. That you can hum.

But others disagree.
Like, for example ...
Merle Hazard

Merle Hazard is America's foremost country singer/economist.

Please do not confuse Merle with the late, great Merle Haggard.
Their songs are not even about the same things, for the most part.

To follow his 2016 breakout blockbuster hit How Long Will Interest Rates Stay Low? (which jokingly references former Fed Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, to whom Abq Jew is not related (see Blood, Spit & Years), Merle has just released

(Gimme Some of That) Ol' Atonal Music

Classical music critic Anne Midgette of The Washington Post asks the question that Abq Jew bets you're asking too:
Who would’ve thought a bluegrass spoof of atonal music would take off on YouTube?
Gimme some of that ol’ atonal music. It lingers in my ears!
Schoenberg and Alban Berg were the genre’s pioneers.
Keep your Bach and Chopin, they’re melodic and passe.
Gimme some of that ol’ atonal music, like Daddy used to play.
If you’re a musician, chances are several people have already sent you a YouTube link to a bluegrass video this week. 
“(Gimme some of that) Ol’ Atonal Music,” by the singer Merle Hazard, details in sunny and endearing tones a love of atonality, while explaining to newbies what that is (music that isn’t in one clear key), and includes the best atonal banjo solo you’ve ever heard (probably the only atonal banjo solo you’ve ever heard). 
That the solo, and the production values, are so good, is no surprise: The soloist and the recording’s producer is Alison Brown, one of the leading five-string banjo players in the country. 
Combine that with a crack backup band, Hazard’s sweetly earnest delivery and a John Cage spoof that’s actually funny, and you have a lot of people laughing at their desks. 
Ms Midgette answers even more questions, like
Who is this guy? Hazard is the nom de guerre of Jon Shayne, a financial manager in Nashville, who, as Hazard, has pioneered a form of comic bluegrass economics on selected videos and Paul Solman’s economics segments on the PBS NewsHour.
How did he get started? Shayne’s career as Merle Hazard began in 2007 when he was talking with a friend about the looming economic crisis."We said, ‘This is going to be a festival of moral hazard’ ” — an economic term meaning that the risks taken by one party (in this case, banks) are borne by another party (in this case, the unfortunate borrowers). “One of us said, ‘That sounds like a country singer, Merle Hazard,’ ” Shayne said. “I thought, Merle Hazard needs to exist.”
Is he for real? Shayne loved music enough to take a year off from Harvard as an undergraduate to immerse himself in extension-division courses at the Mannes School of Music in New York, but he never envisioned a real musical career. He opened his investment firm in 1995; married his home town sweetheart, Ann, a writer; and raised two sons. Yet his genuine love of music is reflected in a seriousness of approach, and in songs like “Ol’ Atonal Music,” that’s part of the reason for their success.
Is this just coincidence? Shayne gleefully observes that [his label] Compass Records is in the building that once housed the Glaser Sound Studios, where Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson were regulars — as well as the children’s book author Shel Silverstein, who for a period wrote country songs, including the hits “A Boy Named Sue” (for Johnny Cash) and “One’s on the Way” (for Loretta Lynn).
In closing (keep the tears of joy and cheers of relief down, please), Abq Jew would like to point out two very important things.

1. E Randol Schoenberg gets the joke. 

2. There are no coincidences.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Blood, Spit & Years

Leafing Out the Family Tree: People often ask Abq Jew how he manages to find so many long-lost relatives on his Family Tree.

Actually, almost nobody asks. But just in case someone should ask sometime, Abq Jew offers this wonderfully interesting and entertaining Not Strictly Genealogy Methodology.

With real-life examples, except that all the names have been changed to protect Abq Jew's family from the world's inherent nosiness, even though no one involved seems to run from publicity. But with enough details so Abq Jew's family will know he has at last found them.

Finding Old Grandad
A Not Strictly Genealogy Methodology
Blood, Spit & Years

It's a long story that barely anyone knows, but Abq Jew's father, of blessed memory, was semi-adopted. Which is to say: the wonderful lady whom Abq Jew always called Grandma was; but the very interesting character whom others always called Bing and whom Abq Jew always called Gramps was not.

It is only through that semi-adoption that Abq Jew's father acquired the current family name; therefore, except for our small branch of the Tree, we are not related to anyone else with that name.

But we are related - by blood! - to Abq Jew's biological grandfather, whom Abq Jew shall here and henceforth call Robert Beachwood.

The family hasn't heard a peep out of Mr Beachwood since he and Grandma split up in the 1930s. And, of course, nothing from any other of the Beachwoods, who may or may not have been aware of Abq Jew's father's existence.

Heck, they may have not been aware of Robert Beachwood's existence. Abq Jew has seen this all too often: Older siblings are up and out of the house (especially in large families) before younger siblings are even born. So everyone loses touch.

So, as Abq Jew has mentioned before (see Starting With Aunt Bea), he started with the 646-leaf Family Tree that his father left him when he passed in 2007. Which provided Smart Matches (TM) to more leaves - including a few Beachwoods.

This is approximately where Abq Jew started looking.
  • Jacob Beechwood had seven sons (and one daughter, not shown). 
  • Robert and Boris were twins. 
  • Many of the siblings had children; we knew some of their names. 
  • We knew Solomon's kids Nathaniel and Alexander; we didn't know about Charles and Donald (although shown) or Greta (not shown.)
Where to start?

The first problem was: there are too many Beachwoods out there. And the second problem? Some of the family had spelled their name Beechwood, with a double-e. Good luck finding anyone.

So Abq Jew did what (he believes) anyone in his situation would have done.

He gave up.

Nothing happened. For years.

And then, in July 2017, MyHeritage sent Abq Jew an email saying he had some new DNA matches. Abq Jew looked; and among them was one

David Beechwood

Yes, Abq Jew had spit into the tube and sent it in a few years ago. Nothing much had happened, and Abq Jew sort of figured nothing much ever would happen. And then, all of a sudden ...

Abq Jew had found his family!

Just to be sure, Dave and Abq Jew exchanged a few emails and figured out that the Beachwoods in Abq Jew's Tree were indeed the Beechwoods in Dave's family. Dave was sure that his Uncle Don Beechwood would know more ... and then Dave just sort of went silent.

Which is where 23andMe steps in. Back when Abq Jew sent MyHeritage his spit, MyHeritage and 23andMe were partners. Then they split the spit, MyHeritage started its own DNA service, and Abq Jew's DNA data were (not was!) shared with both.

So Abq Jew went to 23andMe's website and expanded his search for DNA matches.

23andMe reported a potential match with a Barry S, who Abq Jew immediately figured must be his Beachwood-family relative "Barry Sherwood."

He wasn't. But Barry and Abq Jew had a wonderful talk about the whole Beechwood clan and how we were all related to Billy Joel (see Fame, Fortune, and Four Wives).

Barry told Abq Jew a wonderful Billy Joel story, and then started to talk about Uncle Don Beechwood. Who, it turned out, is a famous Talent Agent.

With an even-more-famous primary client, whom Uncle Don had represented since the beginning of both of their careers, and whose name you would surely recognize if Abq Jew told you who it is.  So let's just say it is David Letterman. But it's not.

Anyway, Barry told Abq Jew that his cousin, Ivy Redstone (not her real name), knew a lot more about the Beechwoods than he did (have we heard this story before?). So Abq Jew contacted Ivy.

And a few weeks later he and Ivy had a wonderful telechat, talking about the whole Beechwood (and not-really-Beachwood) family. Ivy also mentioned that Uncle Don would know a lot more about the Beechwoods than she does.

And Ivy also gave Abq Jew two extremely valuable and excellent clues.
  1. Uncle Don has a daughter, Laura Beechwood, who lives in Manhattan.
  2. All of Uncle Don's siblings were / are academics.

And so Abq Jew found Laura Beechwood on Facebook.

He knew it was her (that is, the right Laura Beechwood) because of a photo on her Timeline of Uncle Don & Aunt Maggie & daughter Julia & daughter Laura. (Yes, Abq Jew was able to recognize them from other photos he'd seen. They're sorta famous.)

Underneath the photo in Laura Beechwood's Timeline was a comment from someone named (NOT!) Susan McNeil.

Happy Father's Day to my wonderful Uncle!

And Abq Jew wondered -

Who the heck is Susan McNeil?

So Abq Jew went to Susan McNeil's Facebook page. Sure enough, she is Facebook Friends with all the right Beechwoods.

So Abq Jew immediately knew that Susan must be the daughter of Uncle Don's brother Alexander. Because Abq Jew already knew most everyone else's family; Uncle Alexander was the only sibling left with no known (to Abq Jew) family.

Then Abq Jew spotted, on Susan's Timeline, a couple of photos with the caption

Happy National Siblings Day
to my wonderful brother, Stephen!

Who, Abq Jew asked himself, could Susan's brother be except Stephen Beechwood?

Whoever that is.

Among Susan's Facebook Friends were two young kids with Beechwood last names, who live in Newton, Massachusetts. Not much information on their Facebook pages. So Abq Jew Googled them.

And came up with their father, Stephen L Beechwood. The famous Stephen L Beechwood. Born in 1955 in Bloomington, Indiana. Professor of Chemistry at MIT. Has his own Wikipedia page, which tells us
He is known for his involvement in the development of the Beechwood-Hartwig amination and the discovery of the dialkylbiaryl phosphine ligand family for promoting this reaction and related transformations. 
He was elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and as a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 2000 and 2008, respectively.
Well, this was certainly interesting. But was his father Alexander Beechwood? Alexander, who would be in his 90s now - if he's still alive?

So Abq Jew Googled "alexander beechwood obituary." And found ... no obituary! Mazeltov! Until 120! But he did find a genealogical record on Ancestry that listed Alexander Beechwood with children Stephen L and Susan E.

Finally - remember that all of Uncle Don's siblings (Solomon Sanders "Steam Ship" Beechwood's children) were academics?

So Abq Jew Googled "professor alexander beechwood." And found

Alexander Beechwood, Professor Emeritus

And of what great institution of higher learning was Alexander Professor Emeritus?

Indiana University of Bloomington, Indiana

Yes, Bloomington, Indiana. Where the famous Stephen L Beechwood was born. Now, this is not like a sworn & notarized affidavit - but it works for Abq Jew!

So, you may ask -

Is this really genealogy, "the study and tracing
of lines of descent or development"?

In what is left, after all these years, of Abq Jew's mind, the answer is -

No, this is not strictly genealogy, which tends to utilize official, government-issued documents to look back and discover where people came from and who they were. 

Now, Abq Jew loves government-issued documents as much as the next guy. But Abq Jew tends to use (also) less formal means to look forward, to see where people ended up and who they are now.

Which is how Abq Jew has leafed out
much of the Beechwood Family Tree.

The fun part in doing genealogy, even Abq Jew-style, has been finding long-lost members of the Beachwood family and introducing them to each other.

But the best part, so far, was when Abq Jew was able to connect with Alexander Beachwood on the telephone and hear him say that he remembered Abq Jew's father, "Cousin Dickie."

The stories that Abq Jew's father and grandmother had always told him were true. They really happened.

It's sorta like the ending of Big Fish, one of Abq Jew's favorite movies (Tim Burton, wouldn't you know). All the stories that Edward Bloom has told his son Will ... turn out to be true. And Will meets all the characters ... at his father's funeral.

But Abq Jew's story continues. Abq Jew looks forward to (soon!) contacting more of his Beachwood family - really, just to say hi. And, of course, to find out

What ever happened to Old Grandad?
After all these years, no one seems to know.

As for Abq Jew's children and grandchildren - his work is really for them.

Nathan Heller writes in the August 6 & 13 2018 issue of The New Yorker:
Long before the founding of Rome, the Etruscans measured time by something called the saeculum. 
A saeculum spanned from a given moment until the last people who lived through that moment had died. It was the extent of firsthand memory for human events—the way it felt to be there then—and it reminds us of the shallowness of American history. 
Alarmingly few saecula have passed since students of the Enlightenment took human slaves. We are approaching the end of the saeculum of people who remember what it feels like to be entered into total war. 
The concept is useful because it helps announce a certain kind of loss: 
the moment when the lessons that cannot be captured in the record disappear.